1. Alexander Yule, or in Scots orthography Yuill [d. 1624], was for thirty-three years the headmaster of the prestigious Grammar School in Stirling, one of the most important burghs in Scotland due to the presence of the royal palace in the Castle. Some curiously incomplete information about Yule is provided by his latter-day successor A. F. Hutchison, in his History of the High School of Stirling. NOTE 1 Yule succeeded Thomas Buchanan [headmaster 1571 - 78], the nephew of the great George, King James VI’s world-famous tutor. Thomas had been a regent at St Salvators College, University of St Andrews, until 1568, when he became joint-headmaster of Edinburgh High School, before moving to Stirling as head in 1571. He had apparently assisted his uncle George in educating the young king; Hutchison (p.31) notes a royal payment to Thomas who “hes been in the nowmber of his hienes household and hes bruiked the pensioun thir divers yeirs bygane.” Thomas Buchanan was promoted to the pastoral charge of Ceres, Fife, in 1578, and in October 1582, the General Assembly gave him permission to assist James Melville in teaching divinity at St Mary’s College in St Andrews University, which he certainly did from time to time. Hutchison (p. 34) says Alexander Yuill was a St Andrews graduate, who probably came straight from there to Stirling: “The probability is that he was selected or recommended to the Magistrates by his predecessor.” His reason for claiming this is that an Alexander Yule appears in a St Salvators College list in 1577. NOTE 2 In fact, it is unlikely that this refers to the poet, and there is a much better explanation, given below, of why Thomas Buchanan, Yule’s former teacher at Edinburgh High School, would have been in an excellent position to know the adult Yule’s worth and recommend him as his successor. Hutchison correctly says that the poet was the brother of John Yuill, merchand burgess of Edinburgh. NOTE 3 Most unfortunately, extant Stirling Presbytery records begin only in 1581, and reveal that Yule is already in office. But Yule does not seem to have good doctors (i.e. teaching assistants), nor, latterly at any rate, to have entertained good relations with the Town Council, his employers. Hutchison devotes most of his pages on Yule to recorded disputes and difficulties. In 1607 we have evidence that he owned land in Ireland. NOTE 4 On 26 June 1612 the Council finally got Yule to retire (the problem appears to be that Yule seems to have had a life appointment).
2. Hutchison does not explain why he ignores the presence in Stirling of an Alexander Yuill M. A. as reader at Kirkton (modern name St Ninians) in 1574. Listed in Miscellany of the Wodrow Society (1841) p. 366, this man’s presence in Stirling provides a most plausible explanation for the poet’s Stirling link with his former teacher Thomas Buchanan and likewise Yule’s access to George Buchanan himself (see the introduction to Yule’s Ecphrasis below) which is otherwise difficult to explain, since Buchanan left Stirling in 1579 with King James VI and thereafter lived in Edinburgh. NOTE 5 If the reader at Kirkton is the poet Yule, then the St Salvators undergraduate of 1577 is a different man. The progression from “reader” to schoolmaster, or indeed the combination of the two offices, was commonplace, while it is rather unlikely that a newly graduated product of St Salvators would be immediately elevated to the headship of one of the most prestigious schools in the kingdom. That would not be true of a man who had already established himself in the Kirk hierarchy in Stirling, and had won the approval of his fellow-residents, George and Thomas Buchanan; indeed, Yule claims in his preface to the Descriptio horrendi parricidii that he had known the king since the latter’s boyhood. Hutchison is not aware of this claim, nor that Yule himself said he had been ludimagister at Stirling annos fere tres et triginta in the preface to his textbook Ecphrasis paraphraseos Georgii Buchanani in Psalmos Davidis, printed at London in 1620, which, given that he left in June 1612, indicates that he took up his duties as headmaster in Stirling in 1579.
3. Hutchison’s whole entry on Yule deals with problems with doctors, neglect of his responsibilities, complaints, and so forth. Hutchison seems to dislike Yule, and actually seems envious of the man’s wealth at his death, taking pains to point out that it was considerable, and could not possibly have been savings from his salary. This apparent dislike of Yule is highlighted by the very odd fact that Hutchison completely ignores Yule’s far from negligible printed poetic output, but makes some small reference, on pp.46 - 48, to two specimens of the much less extensive published work of Yule’s successor, William Wallace, namely the two poems written for James VI’s visit in 1617 and printed in The Muses Welcome. Hutchison says the first of these poems “expresses the most hysterical joy over the King’s arrival” in 246 lines, “and although as extravagant in adulation as the occasion required, shows much spirit.” But the second of Wallace’s poems is criticised as “somewhat forced, as if the worthy ‘maister’ had rather exhausted himself in the previous effort. It expresses the frantic grief of the town at the King’s early departure” (pp .47f,). Hutchison proceeds to observe that “In this effulgence of royal sunshine and literary glory, Mr Wallace left Stirling” (p. 48) to become headmaster at Glasgow: it is not entirely clear why Hutchison ignores Wallace’s very large published poem on behalf of Glasgow University to Charles I during his 1633 coronation visit to Scotland. Be that as it may, Hutchison grants the much more prolific Alexander Yule no effulgence, nor literary glory.
4. Yule’s surviving published works are all available in the Early English Books Online (EEBO) series, but he cannot be found there under Yule; he is listed only as Julius, Alexander. He appears to have published no poems before 1600, the earliest being Illustrissimae Dominae Annabellae Murraviae vitae et mortis Speculum (STC 14846.5; BL 1213.k.17(7)), printed at Edinburgh by Robert Charteris in 1603, NOTE 6 and Descriptio horrendi parricidii, also from Charteris, 1606. All of Yule’s works, except the three publications which EEBO / STC claims as printed in London, conclude with a schoolmasterly elucidatio. Before Yule left Stirling in 1612, he had published various poems to grandees (for weddings and funerals), and the Isaiah, Malachi and Habbakkuk paraphrases; presumably his In Henricum Fridericum…lachrymae… Novemb. 1612 appeared after he had left Stirling. Other poems are published in and after 1614: Sylvarum Liber, Ob secundum et felicem eventum coniugii… Frederici 5.…et Elizabethae, and the Poemata Sacra collection of existing material. Later works are the Buchanan Psalms Ecphrasis of 1620, and two undated poems with no publisher’s name, Ad Augustissimum…regem dominum suum clementissimum (a begging letter to James VI, published if not written after New Year’s Day 1617, since the volume contains strenae to James and Prince Charles for 1617), and Ad ter maximum…regem dominum suum…quod afflictorum querelam aure facili…admiserit (undated), which appears to concern James VI’s suppport for Yule in legal problems with Irish ‘wolves.’ However, the Sylvae of 1614 actually comprise a genethliacon for Prince Henry Frederick, dating from 1594, and a Carmen gratulatorium de Jacobi 6 Scotorum Regis… Sterlinum reditu…multos ante annos scriptum. As for the untitled book recorded in EEBO under the title Mater compellat filium sibi superstitem and described as printed in London 1615, this is in fact a copy of the 1603 Speculum for the Countess of Mar, but the volume also contains a short poem about the three Auchmutie brothers’ antics in Stirling in July 1605. However, unlike all of Yule’s works printed in Scotland, there is no schoolmasterly elucidatio provided, although in this case it would have been particularly useful.
5. Yule provides some invaluable information about himself in his prose introduction to his Ecphrasis Psalmorum G. Buchanani Alexandro Iulio Edinburgeno (London, George Eld, 1620), briefly discussed by McFarlane, Buchanan, pp. 276f. Yule’s book is dedicated to the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Oliver St John. The title makes it clear that Yule was born in Edinburgh; he begins by saying that after teaching in Stirling for almost thirty three years, he has now been retired for over two years (thus implying, since he left Stirling in 1612, that the introduction was written in 1614/15). Since retiring he has wandered about, nunc huc, nunc illuc per bene constitutas patriae civitates errabam.
6. He reminisces that he had learned to correct and polish his own Latin style from George Buchanan, whom he had ventured to consult in person. This makes it even more likely that the reader at Kirkton/St Ninians is the same man as the poet, given Buchanan’s departure to Edinburgh in autumn 1579. Yule explains that he himself had therefore used Buchanan when teaching. He then explains that, thanks to his own former pupil at Stirling, Mr Robert Buchanan, minister of Ceres in Fife, discipulus olim meus, he had gained access to a great mass of MS notes on the psalm paraphrases taken down many years earlier from George Buchanan’s own extempore dictation by praeceptor quondam meus, Mr. Thomas Buchanan (uncle of Mr Robert, his successor at Ceres and inheritor of his books and papers). George had forbidden Thomas ever to publish puerilia illa, quae vocabat, extemporanea, rudia et impolita. Yule says that Buchanan had thus laid the foundations of the present Ecphrasis, in which the puerilia…modo quasi adulta feci. Nothing, Yule says, could be better for boys and adolescents to study than Buchanan’s psalms.
7. The remainder of the epistle dedicatory is a flood of eulogy of Oliver St John and his rule in Ireland, which Yule justifies by saying he had witnessed at first hand, when he spent over seven months in Dublin. The book’s main text is prefaced by poetry by Yule to the Lord Deputy, which plays on the olive-bearing name of Dominus Oliferus, and to the Royal Council in Dublin; these poems are followed by admiring liminary verses in praise of Yule’s work by Henry Charteris (principal of Edinburgh University), Patrick Sands ( who would be principal from 1620, after Charteris’s death), John Adamson (editor of The Muses Welcome, a large anthology of Latin, Greek and vernacular verse written by poets from all over Scotland to welcome James VI and I in 1617) and John Ray (headmaster of Edinburgh High School, and editor of the 1615 Edinburgh printing of Buchanan’s works). These men all contributed to The Muses Welcome, making it even odder than Yule did not, and implying rather strongly that in 1617 he was not in Scotland. He was excluded by Arthur Johnston from the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum of 1637, and although his Buchanan edition was republished in 1699, his own poetry had fallen into an oblivion from which it has never re-emerged.
8. Of his various published works, Yule’s poem on the Gunpowder Plot, having the full title Descriptio horrendi parricidii et nefariae perduellionis a Papane religionis assertoribus designatae in Iacobum Magnae Britanniae, Galliae et Hiberniae regem serenissimum, in ipsius reginam, regiam sobolem, regnique ordines, et optimates, 5. Novembris 1605, no doubt has the greatest claim on the interest of a modern reader, because of its relation to other Latin Plot literature. Whatever else it may have been, the Gunpowder Plot was a godsend for loyalist propagandists, who used it to whip up an anti-Catholic frenzy. Furthermore, the claim that God had specially intervened to rescue James by furnishing him with a prescient ability to interpret the meaning of the mysterious letter handed in by Lord Monteagle and commanding a search of Parliament’s basement, served as a perfect illustration of James’ conception of the unique relationship of God and the king. Loyalist writers were not behindhand in giving literary embodiment to these themes.
9. For consumption by an educated readership, Latin poetry was often selected as the vehicle for such literature. One group of such poems feature variants of a single plot-line, one that had already been used in the 1585 epyllion Pareus, probably written by George Peele, and in Book One of William Alabaster’s incomplete and unpublished epic, the Elisaeis. NOTE 7According to this plot, a great council is held in Hell in which the Lord of the Underworld delivers a speech about the necessity of overthrowing Protestant Britain. A representative is sent to the Vatican, beginning a chain reaction of events which lead to the Plot, which is then baffled when a stroke of divine revelation provides James with the illumination necessary for its frustration. The poems embodying this plot are: In Serenissimi Regis Iacobi Britanniae Magnae, Galliarum, Hiberniae etc. Monarchae ab Immanissima Papanae Factionis Hominum Coniuratione Liberationem Faelicissimam Carmen Ἐπιχάρτικον, by Michael Wallace (Valesius), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, printed at London in 1606; NOTE 8 Francis Herring’s Pietas Pontifica, also printed at London in 1606; NOTE 9 Phineas Fletcher’s Locustae, originally written in 1611, put through several revisions preserved in various manuscripts, and eventually printed at Cambridge in 1627 together with a loose English adaptation entitled The Apollyonists; NOTE 10 Thomas Campion’s De Pulverea Coniuratione; and finally John Milton’s In Quintum Novembris (1626). This kind of mythologized history had several advantages that commended it to poets. It could readily be adapted to various historical situations, placing them all in the same mythological framework. It made the immediate conflict of British Protestantism against Catholicism a manifestation of an ongoing Manichaean struggle, of cosmic proportions and significance, between the forces of good and evil, and had the effect of exactly inverting the claims of the Roman Catholic Church: instead of being God’s Church on this earth, it was represented as an agency of Satan. Any local opponent of the British government and the Church of England could be represented as a catspaw of Rome, and therefore as a representative of that agency, and any conspicuously disloyal activity could be represented as an episode in this great ongoing struggle.
10. Yule’s Descriptio horrendi parricidii does not contain the full set of features belonging to this narrative pattern. It deserves to be compared with the earliest of the poems listed in the preceding paragraph, written in the same year by Yule’s fellow Scotsman Michael Wallace. Angry at the peace and prosperity of Britain under the rule of King James, Pluto convenes a hellish council where he makes his complaint in a wrathful speech. The devil Abbadon responds with the advice that Pluto should employ the services of the Jesuits to rectify the situation. Disguised as a Jesuit, Abbadon appears at Rome, where he recruits Guy Fawkes and plants the idea of destroying Parliament with gunpowder. Fawkes complies, but the Gunpowder Plot is foiled when God perceives it and intervenes. A mysterious letter is sent to Lord Monteagle; he discloses it to the government; James in his wisdom deciphers the letter, and the Plot is revealed. The poem concludes with praise of the King and an exhortation to exterminate all Catholic recusants. Descriptio horrendi parricidii does have an Underworldly council (31ff.), at which “Stygian Jove” (surely Satan rather than the Pluto of classical mythology) delivers no speech. At the conclusion of the council, the Furies and their accomplices fly directly to England and infect the plotters with their poisons (52ff.). Although Yule makes it clear enough that these men are devotees of the Church of Rome, within the mythological structure he constructs Rome is “left out of the loop,” so they are represented as inspired directly by Hell rather than as agents carrying out a scheme devised by the Church. And, while he informs the reader at 116ff. that the Plot was frustrated thanks to the intervention of divine mercy, supplying James with a preternatural ability to understand the impending threat, no information is supplied about how this actually transpired.
11. Even when these important differences have been duly noted, it is tolerably evident that the mythological framework being imposed on the events of the Gunpowder Plot, as a means of placing the same, or at least a very similar, theological interpretation on them. At this point we are frustrated by not knowing the relationship of Yule’s poem to Wallace’s: did Wallace produce a more elaborated version of a myth first manufactured by Yule, or did Yule repeat an abbreviated version of Wallace’s? Since Yule’s mythological structure is comparatively unsophisticated, it is tempting to imagine that his poem came first and that Wallace subsequently embroidered it on the basis of Pareus, but certainty is obviously impossible. There seems no way to answer this question, but this much is reasonably clear: that the mythological account of the Plot that would eventually be repeated by Milton was first devised in Scotland.
NOTE A. F. Hutchison, History of the High School of Stirling (Stirling, 1904).
NOTE 2 James Maitland Anderson, Early Records of the University of St Andrews, (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1926) p. 290.
NOTE 3 Records of the Privy Council of Scotland, vii 267. Alexander’s Edinburgh origins are proudly proclaimed in the title of his Ecphrasis Psalmorum G. Buchanani Alexandro Iulio Edinburgeno.
NOTE 4 Hutchison p.41; State Papers (Ireland) 1615 - 25, item 953, Sept.30 1622, Docquet Book: grant made to Margaret Yule, sole sister of Alexander deceased of certain lands escheated to the the King, she not being a free citizen of that kingdom, and also to make letters of denization for her and her children.
NOTE 5 Listed in Miscellany of the Wodrow Society (1841) p. 366.
NOTE 6 This printing firm was founded by Henry Charteris, the father of Robert, the current operator of the press, and Henry Charteris, Principal of Edinburgh University. On the title page Charteris identifies himself as typographus regius, which adds a certain aura of officialdom to the publication.
NOTE 7 See Michael O’Connor, “The Elisaeis of William Alabaster” (Studies in Philology monograph 76, 1979). In the Introduction to Pareus it is shown that Peele created his plot under the influence of Book VIII of the Aeneid combined with Book IV of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, perhaps familiar to him from the Latin translation by Scipio Gentili published at London in 1584 under the title Plutonis Concilium.
NOTE 8 Edited by Estelle Haan, “Milton’s In Quintum Novembris and the Anglo-Latin Gunpowder Epic, Part II” Humanistica Lovaniensia 42 (1993), 368 - 401. Evidently Michael Wallace was unrelated to the abovementioned schoolmaster William Wallace.
NOTE 9 Edited by Estelle Haan, “Milton’s In Quintum Novembris and the Anglo-Latin Gunpowder Epic,” Humanistica Lovaniensia 41 (1992) 221 - 95.
NOTE 10 Originally edited in The Poems of Phineas Fletcher B. D., Rector of Hilgay, Norfolk (ed. the Rev. Alexander H. Grosart, privately printed, 1869) II.3 - 58. On pp. 177 - 86 of the same volume Grosart reproduced a “spirited if somewhat periphrastic translation” by a Mr. Sterling that had appeared in a volume entitled Miscellaneous Poems, Original and Translated by several hands, viz., Dean Swift, Mr. Parnel, Dr. Delany, Mr. Brown, Mr. Ward, Mr. Sterling. Mr. Concawen and others. Published by Mr. Concawen. 1724. A superior edition, with a collation of the manuscripts, appears in the second volume of Frederick S. Boas, The Poetical Works of Giles Fletcher and Phineas Fletcher (Cambridge U. K., 1909). For a modern edition cf. Estelle Haan, Phineas Fletcher: Locustae vel Pietas Iesuitica (Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia IX, Leuven, 1996).